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NFL

Unheralded Canadians living dream as NFL rookies

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

Carolina Panthers offensive lineman David Foucault blocks Green Bay Packers rusher Clay Matthews during NFL play this season. (JEFF HANISH/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Carolina Panthers offensive lineman David Foucault blocks Green Bay Packers rusher Clay Matthews during NFL play this season. (JEFF HANISH/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Le duo dynamique, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and David Foucault, met in May 2013 at practices before the Canadian Interuniversity Sport preseason all-star football game.

Neither Quebecer was viewed as a star prospect before, or even immediately after, that East West Bowl in London, Ont.

Each quietly clung to his football dream, the same extreme long-shot to which countless Canadian high school and university football players dedicate themselves. Only Duvernay-Tardif and Foucault are now living that dream, just 12 months after playing their last down of CIS football.

They’re in the NFL — Duvernay-Tardif with the Kansas City Chiefs, Foucault with the Carolina Panthers.

Foucault has even started a game already. Incredible? Yeah, pretty much.

“He’s such a good guy. I’m so happy for him,” said Duvernay-Tardif, who has stayed in touch with Foucault via email and Facebook since that East West Bowl. “It’s a big thing for an undrafted Canadian free agent to start at left tackle in the NFL.”

No kidding.

Duvernay-Tardif, a tackle-turned-guard from Montreal’s McGill University, first turned NFL heads late in this year’s pre-draft process. In root speed, athleticism and power drills, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder had few O-linemen equals even south of the border.

The Kansas City Chiefs wound up selecting Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round. He is on KC’s 53-man roster this season but has yet to dress for a game; he’s among the weekly seven inactive players who watch games in sweats from the sideline.

Foucault, a 6-foot-8, 305-pound tackle from the University of Montreal, had to take an even unlikelier road to the NFL. His agent helped get him into a pair of “regional” scouting combines late last winter, for best-of-the-rest dream-clutchers snubbed by the main combine in Indianapolis.

Strong play earned Foucault an invitation to the final-round “super regional” combine in Detroit, and he impressed there too.

But Foucault went undrafted, and his phone still didn’t ring in the 24-hour period following the draft, when each team signs about a dozen long-shot, rookie free-agent prospects.

Finally, the Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins began to woo him, and Foucault chose Carolina. He impressed coaches and team brass at rookie camp, then again in summer training camp. By September he made Carolina’s 53-man roster — quite the shocker.

No one expected either Quebecer to play this season, as they recalibrated their minds and bodies to face the massive upgrades in speed and power, compared to what they saw against the likes of Sherbrooke, Concordia and Bishop’s last season.

Foucault, though, got tastes of action in four early games. Come the last week of October, injuries felled two Panthers tackles above him on the depth chart. Head coach Ron Rivera had little choice but to start Foucault at left tackle in a Thursday night home game against NFC South rival New Orleans.

Foucault’s task: to protect quarterback Cam Newton’s blindside.

There’s no sugar-coating it: Foucault had a rough night in a 28-10 loss, but then so did the entire Carolina O-line.

“I never even expect to make the roster for this year,” Foucault said in a phone interview Friday. “I was very stressful all through that week, and I pushed myself. I was very nervous and excited, because I made it — my first starting NFL game.

“I played well for a part. It’s just at the end my body was a little bit tired, and New Orleans put a lot of pressure (on my) side.

“My coaches, they talk to me afterwards and said, ‘You worked hard, and you did what you were supposed to do. This is more experience for you, and you’ll get better.’”

That’s a literal transcription of Foucault’s words. Like Duvernay-Tardif, French was pretty much the only language he spoke while growing up in south-side Montreal. The 25-year-old’s English is a work-in-progress.

Unlike Duvernay-Tardif at McGill, Foucault attended a French-language university (unAnglicized, it’s Universite de Montreal). How many other NFLers attended a non-English-language college or university? Right. That fact just makes Foucault’s story all the more improbable.

“I work hard to make it,” Foucault said. “This is not my first language. All the guys here respect me for that.”

All those French words and syllables in Duvernay-Tardif’s full name proved too much in Kansas City. Most coaches and players there call him “Larry,” not “Laurent.”

In an interview in the victorious Chiefs locker room after their win at Buffalo earlier this month, the 23-year-old said he doesn’t mind.

He also didn’t sound frustrated about not having suited up yet, even though he nearly did in Week 2 at Denver.

“To just be able to focus on that, rather than on the next opponent each and every week, is a huge advantage,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think it’s going to be helpful to me in the future.”

It’s been quite a year for le duo dynamique. Who saw this coming in January, let alone a year-and-a-half ago? No one. Not even Foucault and Duvernay-Tardif.

“After the season, we will take a beer somewhere and just talk about everything,” Foucault said. “Two guys from Quebec to make the NFL. It’s a big deal.”

Before that East West Bowl last year, a CIS news release touted a handful of top players. Duvernay-Tardif made the list, along with Pierre Lavertu, Sam Sabourin, Antoine Pruneau, Anthony Coombs, Kit Hillis and Tyler Crapigna.

Foucault’s name appeared only on the East roster, down-page, in small type.

“I just hope that in two, three years people will say, ‘Hey, those two Canadians did well, and brought more NFL scouts up to Canada,’” Duvernay-Tardif said. “That’s my goal. That’s what motivates me to get better every day.”

 

THE THREE BIG MATCHUPS

Bill Belichick vs. Aaron Rodgers

Welcome to the NFC’s nightmare, Mr. Coaching Genius. It’s a head-shaker but this is the first time the Green Bay Packers QB will start against the Patriots and their defensive mastermind head coach. Will Belichick double Jordy Nelson as much as possible and dare Rodgers to win by throwing mostly to other receivers? And how will Belichick employ star cornerback Darrelle Revis?

 

Phil Rivers vs. Joe Flacco

A showdown of big-armed passers in Baltimore. Rivers seems to be playing above whatever rib injury he’s battling. Flacco and the Ravens are coming off a momentum-propelling win in New Orleans. The Ravens’ defence seems more settled and stingy at this point of the season, so Flacco has the edge going in.

 

Colt vs. Colts

Heaven knows what kind of game newly anointed Redskins starting QB Colt McCoy brings; he looked good in two relief roles, but he’s Colt McCoy. Ditto, the schizophrenic Indy defence, which can shut you out (Bengals), shut you down (Jaguars), allow 522 yards passing (Steelers) or allow a no-name newbie to rush for 199 yards (Patriots).

 

DECODER

Quick-hit items to whet your Week 13 appetite:

With a blowout win at Green Bay, New England would become the first team in NFL history to win four consecutive games by 20 or more points against foes with a record at least three games above .500. Never mind that that stat (provided by the NFL) is as arcane as any in a baseball geek’s bible. It’d be an impressive feat.

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The NFL’s Top 20 most successful field-goal kickers this season are 388-of-423 (91.7%). Indianapolis Colts veteran Adam Vinatieri is better than ever. He’s the last perfect placekicker in the league, having made all 25 attempts, including seven from 40-49 yards out and two from 50-plus.

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Green Bay and New England lead the NFL in turnover differential, so you’d better believe the turnover battle will play a huge factor in this game of seemingly even-matched, high-scoring titans. Green Bay is +15, New England +11.

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One of the most surprising developments this season has been the regression of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers offence. One statistic bears that out as much as any: first-down plays. Entering Week 13, the Niners were second-worst in the league, averaging just 4.4 yards per play (Dallas was best, at 6.41). After averaging 3.2 yards per play overall in Thursday night’s putrid performance against Seattle, San Fran’s first-down average is likely to worsen.

THE BIG NUMBER

322

Number of consecutive passes Aaron Rodgers has thrown at Lambeau Field without an interception. He has thrown 29 touchdown passes in that span, which dates to Dec. 2, 2012.

THE FOUR BIG GAMES

1. New England Patriots (9-2) at Green Bay Packers (8-3)

The hottest AFC team against the hottest NFC team. Has all the makings of the game of the year. Super Bowl preview, too? Could well be. We all know who’s quarterbacking. The game might come down to which team can run it the best, and both will try to do just that with their impressive stables of backs.

2. Denver Broncos (8-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

The Broncos got it together last week just in time to knock off the Dolphins. It won’t be easy beating K.C. in the night-time cold. In recent outings the Chiefs’ celebrated pass rush couldn’t get to Peyton Manning. Needs to do so this time. The loss of star safety Eric Berry (to suspected lymphoma) really hurts the Chiefs secondary.

3. San Diego Chargers (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (7-4)

After a three-game skid the Chargers awakened to win their last two. The real test as to whether they’re anywhere close to their impressive September form comes at MT&T Stadium, against a quietly improving Baltimore team. The winner still has a shot to win its division; the loser drops deeper into the AFC wild-card scramble.

4. Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

A matchup of NFC division leaders, if you can believe it. It’s time for QB Drew Stanton to show he can consistently pass the Cardinals down the field, not just a couple times a game. Here’s his chance — against the poor pass-rushing, poor pass-covering Falcons defence. Bear in mind Atlanta is 0-7 against non-divisional opponents.

MUST-WIN SUNDAY

The team that must win, or else

Buffalo Bills (6-5)

With a win at home against the Browns, the Bills would enter December with a winning record, and with seven wins, for the first time since 2000. To have any chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, the Bills must win because here’s their December sked: at Denver, Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England.

 


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